Good problems to solve

If you’re not on a mission to solve a specific problem, how do you choose the best customer problem for your startup to work on solving?

Alan Jones


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Update: you can now watch this TV interview on the topics covered in this blog post, interviewed by Simon Thomsen of StartupDaily on his regular startup show on (registration required).

Solve customer problems that arise often, every day

We have to help our customers develop new habits — to use our product/service to solve that problem, rather than their old habitual solution. Habits form more effectively with less time between repetitions.

Another variable in that equation is the real or perceived value created. If the real (or perceived) value created is sufficiently high (eg selling a house for $200k more than the traditional means of sale) then frequency-of-use doesn’t need to be as high. But if you have to choose between solving a high value problem or a high frequency of use problem, you should choose the latter. Habits just form more quickly the more often a new solution is used.

The third variable is to choose problems for which you can add value fast. If your customer has to go through a lengthy onboarding process before they receive the value from your solution, that’s not as great as if you can give them some of the value in the first sixty seconds. Much of the rapid adoption of Tinder and Uber comes from the very rapid pay-off. Tinder reduces your time to start feeling like you’re going to meet attractive people to under a minute if you already have a photo of yourself on your phone. Uber books you a ride in under a minute, a process that used to take a few minutes on hold and then another minute or two speaking to a bored, hostile person on the phone.

A formula where H=2RxVxS and H=habit formed, R=repetitions per time period, V=value of solving problem, and S=speed to solve.
How to think about choosing a problem to work on: what’s the value of getting the customer to form a new habit by using your product or service, vs their old habit of using the current solution?

Divide in order to conquer

Build solutions that you can sell to individuals within an organisation or community, rather than to the organisation or community as a whole. Divide and conquer. Be Atlassian before you aspire…



Alan Jones

I’m a coach for founders, partner at M8 Ventures, angel investor. Earlier: founder, early Yahoo product manager, tech reporter. Latest: